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UK adults spend nearly £400 million on ‘freemium’ games

25 March 2014

1 in 10 admit to being ‘addicted’ to games like Farmville and Candy Crush

  • UK adults have spent £386m on ‘free-to-play’ games*
  • 16% of adults play freemium games more than five times a week
  • Brits have spent on average £17.50 each on in-app purchases
  • 18 to 24 year olds have spent double the average amount (£35.40)
  • 6% of parents say their children have made purchases without their knowledge

New research from has uncovered the nation’s obsession with free-to-play games, with 16% of adults saying they ‘often’ play them and more than one in ten (11%) admitting that they are addicted to them.

The research found that just under half (44%) of the people who play so-called ‘freemium’ games, such as Candy Crush, had made an in-game purchase, spending £17.50 on average. However, some confessed to paying out much more than this, with 3% of 18 to 24 year olds admitting to spending over £100 on in-game purchases such as buying extra lives or to unlock additional levels. Statistically, the 18 to 24 age group have spent the most, at £35.40 on average.

25 to 34 year olds were the group that played freemium games the most often, with one in five (22%) claiming they played them more than five times a week.  People aged 35 to 44 were the most likely to let their children play freemium games, with almost a fifth (19%) of parents in the age group stating that their children played them.

Alarmingly, 6% of parents said that their child had made purchases through an online game without their knowledge. However, this was significantly higher with young parents (aged 18 to 24), as nearly a third (29%) said that their child had bought things through an online game without them knowing. Despite this, only one in four adults (24%) said that they had security on their device to prevent such spending.

Claire Peate, customer insight manager at, said: “Freemium or free-to-play games are typically played on mobile phones or through social media sites, like Facebook. Though free to download and play, freemium games usually offer the player an option to buy extra lives or unlock features through in-app purchases using real money.

“Games like these can be a good a way to relax or pass the time while travelling, but in many cases they are designed to encourage a ‘just one more go’ mentality, with one in ten adults claiming they are addicted to them. This can be particularly dangerous when in-game purchases come into the equation.

“Though in-app buys are usually relatively inexpensive, the costs can quickly add up, especially if you play frequently. For instance, a £2.99 purchase once a week might not seem like much, but over the course of a year, this adds up to £155.48, which is a lot of money to spend on a ‘free’ game.

“Most devices save your payment details to enable you to make purchases on them quickly. However, this can make it easy to lose track of what you’re spending as it’s as easy and instant as pressing a button, so it’s particularly important to try and keep track of what you’re spending.

“Rather worryingly, our survey showed that 6% of children had made these sorts of purchases without their parent’s knowledge, but only one in four adults (24%) said that they had security on their device to stop this happening. If you are concerned about your child making purchases, most smartphones and tablet devices will have a setting that will ask for a password for when these are attempted. This can be a good way to ensure that they don’t accidentally run up bills on your card without your knowledge.”


Notes to editors:

On 17 February 2014, Vision Critical conducted an online survey among 2,019 randomly selected British adults who are Springboard UK panellists.  The margin of error-which measures sampling variability-is +/- 2.2%. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and regional data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of United Kingdom. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

* £386m figure based on 44% of UK adults having spent money on an in app purchase in a freemium game, with an average spend of £17.50. According to the Mid-2012 population estimate from the Office for National Statistics (published 08/08/13)  there are 50,180,000 UK adults (aged 18 and over), 44% of this is 22,079,200 x £17.50 = £386,386,000. Any discrepancy is due to rounding.